Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter Summary
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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(Short Stories for Students)

Chitra Divakaruni’s ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter’’ was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1998 and was included in Divakaruni’s second short-story collection, The Unknown Errors of Our Lives (2001). Divakaruni is an Indian who immigrated to the United States, and ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter’’ is one of her many stories that explores the culture shock faced by Indian women who have made such immigrations. In this particular case, Mrs. Dutta, an Indian widow, bows to her sense of duty and pressure from her Calcutta relatives. She decides to come and live with her son and his family in the San Francisco Bay area—a setting that Divakaruni uses repeatedly in her fiction. Throughout the story, Mrs. Dutta tries to answer her Calcutta friend’s question about whether or not she is happy in America, but she keeps putting her response letter aside. She is afraid to explore how she really feels, since this may conflict with her loyalty to her family. However, through a series of cultural conflicts, she finally gains the strength to be honest with herself about her unhappiness. When this story was published in 1998, India was highly visible in the international arena for the cultural conflict among its religious groups, its nuclear weapons tests, and its ongoing border dispute with Pakistan. A current copy of ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter’’ can be found in The Best American Short Stories 1999, which was published by the Houghton Mifflin Company in 1999.


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter’’ follows two days in the life of Mrs. Dutta, an old, widowed Indian woman who had moved into her son’s American home two months earlier. On the first morning, she gets up too early, prompting her son, Sagar, to tell her that she is waking up his wife, Shyamoli, and that Mrs. Dutta should get up later. In this way, Mrs. Dutta’s habits, which she learned as an arranged wife in India, conflict with the American customs of her son’s family. The next morning, Mrs. Dutta gets up later as ordered, but now she ends up being in the bathroom when her grandchildren need it, and they complain. Mrs. Dutta is surprised when Shyamoli does not punish the children for being disrespectful to Mrs. Dutta, their elder. As she does throughout the story, she compares this American behavior with the Indian customs that she has followed her whole life. She also thinks about the letter she received from her Calcutta friend, Mrs. Basu, who has asked if Mrs. Dutta is happy in America. Mrs. Dutta is struggling to be loyal to her son’s family, although she feels uncomfortable about life in America, and so she has not sent a reply to her friend yet. She starts making alu dum, a traditional Indian meal. In her mind, she writes a response to Mrs. Basu, saying that she misses India and then rebukes herself for being nostalgic. She continues making her meal, noting that Shyamoli is worried that Mrs....

(The entire section is 774 words.)